30 Years in the Industry

February 1, 2005
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A review of the profession in celebration of POB's thirtieth anniversary.



An editor works stealthily from her home office just outside Detroit, planning and coordinating the monthly magazine's content. Another editor, now familiar in her 13-month-old space in the Troy, Mich. office, feverishly types on her keyboard while on a phone interview. Across the aisle and down the hall, two national salespeople strengthen old alliances and form new relationships with industry providers. A few steps away, another salesperson coordinates classified ads for industry dealers, colleges and universities, and small and medium businesses. In a nearby town, an art director flows all the content and graphics from her own home office. Writers for the magazine span the country and cover the many areas of the profession.

This is the current structure of POB magazine, in a nutshell. There are numerous others involved in its presentation, coordination, organization and administration-some unseen and many unknown by the publication's readers, but all credited and appreciated. This current structure wasn't always so-certainly not in the winter of 1975 when the publication was officially introduced to the surveying profession. Back then, it wasn't even called P.O.B. Point of Beginning.

The grand evolution of the magazine parallels the growth of the profession (or as some refer to it, the industry) as a whole. Leadership, from both individuals and companies, tools and technology, and licensure and education issues have all changed over the last 30 years-some just a little, some altogether. It's certainly a different time from the first years P.O.B. Point of Beginning hit readers' mailboxes.

POB's founder, Mr. Edwin Miller.

In the Beginning

This story starts at the point of beginning, of course. In 1974, Edwin Miller, owner and salesman of Technical Advisors, a computation services firm in Wayne, Mich., sold 40 offices of his company to now renowned Warner Allen of Allen Precision. To get his name out and increase exposure of his product selection, Allen began sending out catalogs. Miller, having noticed that the surveying profession didn't have much of a publication presence, save for a few state society newsletters and a publication or two put out by the national surveying association ACSM, saw this as an opportunity to grow. With a collection of state society lists, he began publishing and direct mailing a small catalog of his own. At first, it had no name, but by the April/May 1977 issue, Miller put a stamp on it: P.O.B. Point of Beginning.

For a short time, POB was strictly a catalog-type mail piece, but it soon grew to include names such as Rolatape, Keson, Kern, Cubic Western Data and Magnavox-many of which are all but nostalgic entities now. Ads for drawing boards, compasses and DAZOR lamps were seen in successive issues. Instruments highlighted included brands such as Gurley and Hawkeye, others from K&E and Lufkin, and Precision International Inc.'s Beetle, which Miller said, "We sold a lot of [at Technical Advisors]." Several manufacturers that advertised in the early days of POB still exist today-in an evolutionary form: Wild and Wild-Leitz (Leica), Geodimeter (Trimble), Zeiss (Trimble), Mound City (Crain Enterprises), Lietz and Sokkisha (Sokkia), C&G Software (Carlson Software), Magellan/Ashtech (Thales) and SMI (Eagle Point) to name a few. Other names found in the pages of the 1980s and 1990s can be found today: Topcon, Nikon, Schonstedt, PENTAX, Trimble, Berntsen, Sokkia, SURV-KAP.

As editorial was added to the mix, column headings played off surveying terms, including "Tie Point" and "Turning Points." Miller's brother, Eugene Miller, a Columbia University journalism graduate and POB's first columnist, contributed a regular piece titled "Dollars and Sense." Later, other columns provided information and direction on legal aspects (Jerry Broadus' "The Surveyor and the Law"), the international scene (Bob Foster's "On the Level"), GPS (Dr. Jim Reilly's "The GPS Observer"), GIS (George Korte's "GIS: The Next Step"), the basics (Wes Crawford's "Back to Basics") and business agendas (Milton Denny's "The Business Side"), among others.

Point of Beginning sustained a substantial circulation and filled a void, to put it simply. Miller recalls that another publication existed in the 1960s and early 1970s but didn't last. The ACSM Bulletin was in print, but only carried a small percentage of the professionals in the industry on its mailing list. Something more was needed, and POB filled that spot. POB was really the first magazine devoted to surveying, according to Dr. David Knowles, a retired professor of civil engineering and software developer. "Prior to that, the ASCE magazine [had] some surveying in it, but nothing like POB. ACSM had some publications [but they] were primarily written by educators, probably for other educators. I think to the practicing surveyor POB was able to communicate with them better at their level."

POB continued providing for its readers in the way in which it began-and a slogan came of it: "POB-For Surveying and Engineering Equipment, Services and Supplies." To fulfill this end, the manufacturers became a large part of the publication.

Manufacturers Pave the Way

The vast technological advancements of the past 30 years would never have been produced and turned into useful devices without the push from progressive, forward-thinking manufacturers. According to Dr. Knowles, "With a lot of the technology it's been the manufacturers that have been the leaders." Knowles explained that educators and practitioners didn't develop EDMs or GPS "and very little research was ever done at universities concerning equipment advances and technology." Instead, Knowles said, "An instrument company would come up with something, like the HP3800 (essentially the first EDM that surveyors could buy). Surveyors weren't asking for it. HP [Hewlett-Packard] came up with it and then tried to sell it to surveyors."

Many other manufacturers are also remembered and recognized for the "first-of-their-kind" instruments they produced. Milton Denny, PLS, seminar instructor and POB columnist for many years, reminisced about Topcon's Guppy, a low-cost entry-level total station that measured distances and angles. "I saw a prototype of it at an ACSM show and thought it would never make it," Denny said. "But they polished it up and it was an instant hit. And the price! They [Topcon] were the Henry Ford of the industry, putting a low-cost total station into the hands of the surveyor."

A C&G Software ad from 1989 features Ed Cowherd and Dean Goodman in their muddy boots.
On the software end, the "Muddy Boots" guys, Ed Cowherd and Dean Goodman, who established C&G Software in 1978 and brought the concept of computers to small business surveyors in an affordable package, give equally due credit to the late Stanley Trent of SMI [Surveyors Module Inc.] fame. "I first met Stanley when he was just putting together the CO-OP module, which worked on the HP41," Goodman said. "He put all that surveyors needed into one module. It was an interesting way to start a company. The fact that he produced something that people could use, and later bought out his competitors was something. I think Stanley was the first real third-party data collector. Stanley really cared about his profession and really cared about his clients."

"You can't leave out Steve Chou at TDS [Tripod Data Systems]," Goodman added. "He's been a competitor of ours our whole life, but you've got to respect what he's done with that company. He made a lot of good business decisions."

Allen notes the influence of computer-aided drafting on the profession. "With the advent of CAD software, the drafting media, vellums and mylar film used for drafting all changed drastically."

According to Dave Doyle, chief geodesist at the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), this history of manufacturers leading the industry forward continues today. In his opinion, two individuals who have had a great influence on surveying are Charles Trimble and Javad Ashjaee. "Those are the guys that took GPS and made it affordable," Doyle said. "They put it in everybody's pocket ... [and were] leaders in this whole effort."

Many of the technology advancements produced by the active manufacturers and developers have paved the way for new types of survey work, according to Jerry Broadus, surveyor, lawyer and long-time POB columnist. "Tech-nology has allowed surveyors to work in new niches, different from the good 'ole property surveying," Broadus said. "People are taking on more work than they could have ever done in the past and with fewer people." Technology isn't the whole picture, though, as Broadus notes: "There are still roadblocks [like] the research angle. It's not caught up yet to the measurement angle of it."

Technology, Broadus notes, has led to a bottleneck in another area for surveyors. "Technology opens new doors. [However] some instrumentation leads surveyors away from real survey. There's no reason instrumentation should lead to surveyors doing poor work. Every advance in instrumentation has led to my work being more accurate. The problem is that the business climate is getting more to where in order to afford the instrumentation and in order to make a living today, you have to essentially take on more and more work than you ever did before. As a result there is a definite tendency to short-change research. You have to do [both] a lot of research and a lot of field measurement. Even with the Internet, there's still survey research [to be done] at offices." He notes that survey research will always be time-consuming, but that it is possible to do office research while still doing field work in half the time (due to advanced technology).

Favorite Tools and Technology

Naming treasured tools and equipment doesn't come hard to many surveyors, whether you're referencing the last five years or the last three decades. Varied responses to such an inquiry often come immediately: the handheld radio, the electronic data collector, the handheld calculator, the EDM and total station, GPS.

Denny said that the handheld radio was his favorite gadget because "surveyors up until that time [of the radio's release] looked pretty ridiculous waving their arms and making signals." In the late '70s and early '80s, Motorola was a leader in the field of handheld radios, which had a tremendous impact on surveyors in the field. Near real-time analysis of survey data took a giant step forward with the introduction of the Lietz SDR2 in 1984, according to Dr. Joseph V.R. Paiva, PS, PE, former Sokkia and Trimble employee. "Rapid transfer of data from each measurement from the total station to the data collector was achieved, but also immediate conversion of that data into coordinates, so that when closing on a known point, the surveyor had an immediate comparison. The combination of the data collector with the total station created an opportunity for surveyors to change the paradigm of their fieldwork by bringing many of their office functions to the field as well."

Many surveyors swear by another handheld device: the calculator. Bill Karr, PLS, former president of NCEES and current president and co-owner of Northwoods Land Surveying Inc. in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., vividly remembers the effect calculators had on his education. When Karr started attending Michigan Technological University (Houghton, Mich.) in 1969, he had to buy a slide rule along with his textbooks. Then Texas Instruments (TI) started producing handheld calculators. "TI came out with three calculators that year, spaced a few months apart, and each one could do more than the last," Karr said. During Karr's first term at MTU, "There was discussion about whether students could use them [calculators] since they wouldn't know how to use a slide rule." Doyle said that when the HP35 came out, "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. When I was first learning surveying, everything was log tables and a slide rule. The HP35 was the first scientific calculator that let me do sines and cosines. Fifty percent of my time was saved instantaneously."

Broadus gives merit to the reflectorless total station as one of the greatest innovations-that and the Internet. Citing the Internet, he describes how it has automated survey and deed research online. "If you wanted to survey in an area you had to go to the one old-timer who had all the past records," Broadus said. "Now you have to put it [survey records] out there for all people to see."

Ed Cowherd concurs with this observation: "Some of the municipalities have some great GIS systems. Research and [being able to get] organized has improved. Some of the metropolitan areas have some awesome research capabilities over the Internet."

Miller is amazed at the progression of technology in three decades and remembers back to his seminar circuit days in which he gave numerous speeches. "I was telling them [the audiences] that the profession had undergone a revolution with the coming of electronic distance measuring equipment. Now look at it! With the calculators and GPS... It's a different world!"

Allen sums up the technology topic: "More has changed in the last 30 years than in the last 200-plus years."

Emphasis on Education

Another area of growth in the surveying profession has been that of education. More than 30 years ago, apprenticeship was the standard path to becoming a land surveyor. For instance, in the 1950s Denny started his career in land surveying right out of high school as a young rodman. After working for a couple of years, he went to college. Denny said, "I saw the deficiencies of not having education. You had to have education to ever become registered."

Karr believes that "education has had the most force" on the profession during the last 30 years. "We're requiring licensees to have a broader background, [to be] stronger in a lot of areas," he said. Karr also currently serves on Michigan's licensing board, and noted that "in Michigan we're fortunate since we've had the degree requirement since the '70s." (In fact, Michigan was the first state to implement the four-year rule.) Based on his experience as a board licensing member, Karr claims that the four-year degree requirement in Michigan has reduced the number of complaints in his state. "This shows the value of educating young surveyors," Karr said.

Partnering with formal education for the surveying professional is the necessary hands-on experience. Cowherd remembers that when he started in the profession surveyors "came up through the ranks before you came into the office-kind of an internship. I don't know how you can be a surveyor without surveying. I'm not so sure the educational systems we have in place [today] are doing that. Education is one thing, experience is another thing. People seem to be skipping these intermediate steps."

Although the future curricula of surveying programs are expected to be stronger and better than they are now, there are still concerns about the direction of education. Dr. Knowles, a retired professor who taught at Texas A&M University for nine years, followed by 25 years of instruction at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, expressed his concern about civil engineering education. "Back when I taught at A&M, there were a lot of required courses of surveying for civil engineering, including a summer surveying camp. Now they may require one class," Knowles said.

Overall, professionals in the surveying industry are pleased that, as Karr put it, "We have a lot more folks out there that are a lot more educated." Knowles said the increased knowledge of practicing surveyors is the greatest change that the profession has experienced in the last 30 years. He noted, "This [increased knowledge] is due to two things. One is that we have surveying curriculums now [with] two- and four-year degrees. The other is required continuing education." Denny added that all licensed surveyors need to understand that a license "is a license to continue learning."

What's the Future?

"There's always plenty of work for surveyors to do," Broadus claimed. That's one prediction that just about anyone can feel confident making, especially for this market. It's a little trickier to predict what kind of advances in technology will aid the surveyor in the future. "If we go back 30 years," said Dr. Knowles, "I predicted that the next fantastic piece of equipment would be an inertial meter. But then the EDM and the total station wiped it out. My crystal ball 30 years ago was slightly factured." However, Knowles noted, "Tremendous progress has been made in the profession over the last 30 years. And, really, I think the surveyor is to be patted on the back and congratulated for it."

"There will be more automation," Allen predicts with much support from recent advances. "In the future we'll have to have [surveyors with] the cagey capability of Daniel Boone and the electronic capability of John Glenn. [The surveyor] will have to be a rather rugged but mentally adept person."

How can surveyors ensure their future success? As Ben Buckner wrote in late 1978, "Surveyors can direct the future of their profession. If they do not, others will decide it for them. Surveyors should table the repetitive discussions of traditional problems for a while and concentrate on directing the future before it is decided for us."

Editors' note: We thoroughly enjoyed conducting interviews for this article. We realize there are numerous other notable figures in the profession who could have been contacted, and regret that we didn't have the time or the space to accommodate those individuals. We also wished we could have included other important elements about surveying's rich history from the past 30 years. There is much to speak of; here's to the next 30 years!

Sidebar:
Pearls of Wisdom

Pearls are the traditional gift for a thirtieth anniversary. As a gift to POB readers, here are pearls of wisdom from surveying veterans who have learned a lot in the past 30 years-and whose insight and advice might inspire or help you.

Ed Miller: "You can't just bury your head in the sand. You've got to keep up with new developments, and you've got to pick and choose as to what you want to follow."

Bill Karr: "An employer told me not to use tunnel vision when trying to solve a surveying problem. My personal philosophy when I'm doing survey work is that when I see work from another surveyor that I don't agree with, I try to decide what he did first. Then I can make a decision on whether that was right or wrong."

Dr. David Knowles: "Charge more money. Almost all respected professionals are compensated enough to where they don't have to worry about where their next loaf of bread is coming from, so they can really concentrate on what the client needs. I think a lot of [surveyors] take shortcuts because they say, "˜The client can't afford this.' To provide the service, the surveyor has to be properly compensated."

Milton Denny: "I think the single biggest challenge facing us in the future is double monumentation at corners-what is "˜lovingly' known as a pin cushion. As technology increases the ability to measure and determine better, surveyors have to start making decisions and be willing to accept found monumentation as being adequate for [a] corner. I believe that this is happening more and more because the surveyor thinks the answer is found in the computer or office when the answer has always been found in the field."

Dave Doyle: "Be more educated and think outside the box. [Surveyors need to ask], "˜Who's going to use our data? Where can I be most productive?' [Surveyors need to provide] analysis, management and education to the rest of the world."

Jerry Broadus: "Make sure your clients understand what it is [you're doing]. Surveyors and clients end up in disputes with each other, and clients misuse surveys because they don't understand what they are. That can be resolved if surveyors take the lead in communicating to the public what the survey really is."

Ed Cowherd: "There's only one thing you have in life and that's your name. You've got to be honorable, you've got to keep your word"¦ be as professional and competent as you can."

Joe Paiva: "Even though being an expert measurer is central to a surveyor's practice, it doesn't make a surveyor. The ability to analyze-that is to understand a problem, break it down, develop solutions, pick the best one, implement it and communicate the results to those who will use it-that's surveying."

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